Secrets of the Vibrato part 1

For years, the vibrato has long been thought of primarily as a means of adding expression to melodic passages.  An “add on.” Teachers have emphasized this point which has resulted in a primary misconception. 

Vibrato is more than a way to add expression to particular notes. 

Vibrato is the basis of left hand technique

Therefore it affects all of your playing and expression. To have a correctly functioning vibrato means not only are your lyrical passages happening, but also your fast passages.

My teacher, George Neikrug, told me, “Vibrato is a great indicator of proper technique since, when optimized,it implies that a good combination of strength and flexibility is being used. Dounis used to say that, if a passage can be played with a beautiful vibrato on every note, it will be easier to play even faster.”


Vibrato continuity is very important especially when you are transferring the weight from one finger to another. This is called “vibrato legato.” There are simple exercises to develop this skill. The vibrato should be more or less continuous whether moving finger to finger, shifting or playing fast. This means the hand achieves a level of comfort in all its actions.


The freest vibrato with any finger is created when the finger is more on the straight side than curved. The correct curve and balance of the finger must be tested to find where there is the greatest freedom of movement in the joints. Each finger must have its own balance and therefore if you ever vibrate while allowing the other fingers to rest on the string, the vibrato finger must still be the primary balance. 


All the joints of the of the arm must be loose, starting in the end joint of the finger, the other finger joints, the wrist and the elbow. Do not allow the weight of the arm to give you the pressure necessary to bring the string to the fingerboard, instead, use only the weight of the finger. Minimum pressure allows for greater flexibility and movement of the joints.


My teacher used to say,”It should be that you cannot touch a string without a vibrato; that it is impossible.” The vibrato takes the string to the fingerboard. The finger should be limp as if the left hand is descending from above and an external imaginary weight rests on top of it. The hand and fingers are passive and loose. The finger is curved but not too much because one gets a better vibrato with a straighter finger. You only want just enough pressure to keep the string down, too much pressure will tighten the joints, impacting the sound and your comfort.

In part two of this series on vibrato I will consider the following aspects of vibrato: 

  1. “The sizzle”
  2. Releasing rather “Pumping” the vibrato
  3. The change of direction in higher positions

Also check out all the wonderful insights of Dounis in his only published interview on the Master The Cello Blog.